Nonprofit Communication: Elevating Your Message

Thoughtware Article Published: Jul 22, 2019
Group of volunteers discussing plans

The IRS divides 501(c)(3) organizations into two categories—public charities and private foundations. As their name indicates, public charities are supported primarily by the general public. To build and maintain that critical support, organizations must establish important community connections with donors, volunteers, partnering agencies and those who rely on the organization’s services.

Considering the importance of these connections, one might assume organizations spend a lot of time and resources developing their communications strategy. In 2015, a university surveyed 500 public charities throughout the Midwest to find out if communication was a priority within their organizations. Here are some key findings:

  • 90 percent don’t conduct market research to better understand their audience.
  • 80 percent don’t know what their peers are doing in the area of communications.
  • 59 percent described their communications budget as “weak.” 
  • 12 percent said they have no communications budget.
  • 80 percent said their board discusses communications once a year or not at all.
  • 85 percent said their board doesn’t include communications staff members in decision making regarding public relations and marketing.

The findings are clear: Communication isn’t a high priority for many nonprofit organizations. Moreover, many organizations that attempt to communicate lack success. Nonprofit marketing guru Nancy Schwartz conducted a national survey and found that 86 percent of nonprofit messages don’t connect with key audiences because they’re inconsistent, hard to remember and aren’t relevant to their intended audiences. The simple tips below can help you form powerful connections that could lead to mission success.

Be Consistent

Inconsistencies make it difficult to recognize your brand and identify with your meaningful work—and if your community doesn’t recognize your organization, it’s likely they won’t give time or money to your cause. It’s important for your organization to use consistent wording. Messages on your website, social media, print materials and even public presentations should contain identical phrases. 

You should reinforce your organization’s message whenever and wherever you have a presence. When your stakeholders repeat the same messages, it takes hold in the minds of listeners. This means taking time to establish agreed-upon taglines, elevator speeches and mission statements.

It’s also important to be consistent in your visual presentation of images, color schemes and fonts. Use the same logo with the same color scheme on all platforms, from your website and business cards to promotional materials. Remember, people see symbols, not letters. If the shape (font, color, etc.) differs, the symbol won’t be recognizable.

Be Memorable

There are more than 1.5 million registered nonprofit organizations in the United States. Most communities have hundreds, or even thousands, of organizations that do good work. To be memorable and rise above the sea of other nonprofits, you must talk about your organization in a way that distinguishes it from those doing similar work.

Memorable organizations aren’t the ones talking about their strategic plans, methodologies or accounting processes. While those are important, they’re not what makes you memorable. People care about helping others, changing lives and seeing somebody go from defeated to victorious. 

Storytelling is a powerful way to touch hearts, bring in donors and volunteers and help people remember your organization. Tell stories in person, on video and in writing. Help your audience understand the pain and agony of a person’s situation, as well as the hope and strength that occurred because of your organization’s services.

Be Relevant

There’s an old advertising phrase, “What’s in it for me?” And the “me” isn’t your organization—it’s your intended audience. In other words, why should they care about this communication? How does your cause relate to them and the world in which they live? 

Relevant messages use words and images that help the audience feel connected to the cause. They’re worded in a way that not only emphasizes the need being addressed but how the listener/viewer can be part of the solution. 

If your message fails to answer why they should care and how they can be part of the solution, it’s irrelevant. [ Tweet That ]

Be Intentional

Your message is too important, and there’s too much at stake, to hope that things just work out or fall into place. As you plan for the upcoming year, develop a communications strategy that clarifies your goals, audience and channels and lists upcoming events where you should have a presence. Take time to develop consistent messages and a style guide (an agreed-upon set of rules for colors, fonts and other visuals).

If you need help developing a communications strategy, contact your BKD trusted advisor or use the Contact Us form below. 

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